Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No.2


Edvard Grieg met Henrik Ibsen in Italy in 1866, after which Grieg was commissioned to write the music for Peer Gynt. The play premiered in 1876 in Oslo. Ibsen put tight deadlines and complex challenges to Grieg, which he struggled with until the music was completed. Within the whole play, Grieg composed 33 separate pieces of incidental music and it wasn’t until over a decade after composing the original incidental music that the two famous orchestral suites were compiled. 

Grieg curated two four-movement suites made up solely of incidental music from Peer Gynt. These suites are some of Grieg’s most-loved works, with the First Suite was published in 1888, and the Second Suite in 1893. 


The Music
Movement I – The Abduction of the Bride. Ingrid’s Lament. 

Opening with the harsh music from the beginning of Act II, this music portrays the aftermath of the broken wedding. Set in a shrill G minor, the piercing upper strings lead on the violent opening. The introduction leads to Ingrid’s lament. The strings play a broad melody in unison as the theme develops. The mood is now low and sombre as the upper strings move into their upper register to break away from the lower strings. Upper woodwinds decorate the melody, with emphasis put on the slightly louder phrases. As the lament comes to its end, the timpani brings back the opening theme. Full of energy, the theme quickly subsides, as the music fades away.


Movement II – Arabian Dance

Taken from the middle of Act IV, Arabian Dance does what is promised in the title. A peppy dance accompanied by whirling woodwinds and sharp percussion knit together the themes of this movement. A number of sections frame the different themes of the dance, from the opening shrill theme, to the central syncopated melody, the dance has different sections to highlight different personas within the play itself. Accompanied by off-beats, the violins take over the melody and the urgency in the music becomes more apparent. After a bold reprise of the opening theme, the dance comes to a mysterious end led by the triangle.


Movement III – Peer Gynt’s Homecoming

Also known as the ‘Prelude to Act V’, Peer Gynt’s Homecoming paints a picture of Peer at sea. The tempest at sea is depicted with chromatic rise and falls from the upper woodwind, bold brass stabs and rumbling percussion. As the waves hurl up across Peer’s vessel, he reflects on the things he hasn’t been able to do in life. He also hears the voice of his dead mother, as he trades questions with death. This is represented in the music with the woodwind battling the brass. The strings swirl in the background as the music begins to lower in dynamic and texture. Peer, now despairing, makes his way to the hut of Solveig – the woman he had loved and left at different points in preceding acts of the play. Once they meet, she comforts him.

Movement IV – Solveig’s Song

The final movement, which moves straight on from the previous movement, represents Solveig’s cradle song, which she uses to comfort Peer in his time of need. The rich textures and the folk elements dotted through the music gives a grass-roots feel to the music. Grieg utilises the harp in this movement, offering glimmers of hope from within the song. Perhaps the most famous movement of the four in this suite, Solveig’s Song foreshadows Solveig redeeming devotion to Peer. The movement goes between quiet and tender moments, to slightly faster and more open passages. The peppy melody near the end brings the opening lullaby back to complete this suite off tenderly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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